With the 72-hour deadline looming large, the country’s foreign affairs authorities have been working round the clock, hiring courier services and booking air tickets to repatriate expelled diplomats.
On Friday, the South African government declared five diplomats at the Malawi High Commission in Pretoria, including acting High Commissioner Gloria Bamusi, persona non grata—the expulsion of unwanted diplomats by host nations.
The diplomats have been given three days to leave the rainbow nation. They must leave by tomorrow.
Their expulsions were allegedly for engaging in illegal sale of duty-free alcohol.
“There is nothing we can do to overturn the South African government’s order. We are processing the travel and shipping of their property so that they are repatriated before the deadline,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Rejoice Shumba.
She said the identity of the diplomats will not be revealed until the government has conducted its own investigations.
“The diplomats have not been heard. All we are hearing is the South African side. We will wait until we do our investigations,” said Shumba.
Malawi had no permanent High Commissioner or Deputy High Commissioner at the time of the expulsions.
The spouses of the embassy officials named have also been affected, Shumba confirmed.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Lucky Sikwese said the development followed similar actions by South Africa against diplomats from Lesotho.
Diplomats from Ghana, Rwanda, Burundi were also previously named in the investigation led by the South African Revenue Services (Sars).
“It’s a broader issue. It involves other countries. We previously noted the matter, we will deal with our officials. South Africa will send a report on the matter and we will take it from there. According to article 9 of Vienna Convention, there is nothing you can do once a country has expelled diplomats,” he said.
Earlier, Lesotho also confirmed in a statement that several of its diplomats had been expelled from the regional powerhouse.
In a statement, the Lesotho Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations expressed its disappointment and embarrassment that several Basotho serving at the Lesotho High Commission in Pretoria and the Lesotho Consulate in Johannesburg were declared unacceptable by South Africa.
“The diplomats and their families have been given 72 hours to depart South Africa and relinquish their diplomatic status.
“The South African government took this action under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, due to the said diplomats failing to comply with the laws of the Republic of South Africa, specifically the illicit trade in duty-free alcohol,” the statement reads.
Prior to the expulsions, Sars uncovered a tax-dodging racket, in which the diplomats would buy large volumes of alcohol at duty-free retailers, and then sell it locally.
According to Sars, the scheme cheated the tax collector of an estimated R100 million (about K6.5 billion) a month, South Africa online publication, News24 reported yesterday.